Thursday | 08 September, 2011 | 1:54 pm

Then and now

By Julie Sammarco

What 10 years has done for one bar processor

August 2011- Facing the start of a string of colossal events, the United States entered a decade of change in 2001. From the televised tragedy of 9/11 and the election of America’s first black president—a man whose name was not well-known outside of politics until just a few years before he ascended to the most powerful office in the world—to Hurricane Katrina, a catastrophe so vast it nearly wiped an entire city off the map. The Boston Red Sox, stymied by the curse of Babe Ruth since 1919, finally won the World Series—twice, and there were several wars, financial collapse and a cataclysmic tsunami along with Bernie Madoff, iPods, YouTube, Wii and Bieber fever.

The bottom line: A lot can happen in 10 years.

For Quality Bar, Struthers, Ohio, those years meant making a change from offering run-of-the-mill carbon steel for service centers to providing high-end products that could end up in automobiles, fan shafting and wind turbines.

Since 2001, the company has added a larger 3-inch to 8-inch line, renovated its website with complete online inventory information and expanded its product offerings to include quench and temper and stainless steel, a metal the company plans to begin delivering in August 2011.

“We just got better at what we do,” says Victor DiMargio, general manager at Quality Bar.

Customer service
The company, which still stocks the original carbon steel material, attributes a portion of its growth and success to its customers. Customers showed Quality Bar the high-demand markets, which helped direct the company to the right business decisions over the years.

“Our customers would come to us and say, ‘We come to you to get up to 3 inch then we have to go to someone else and get over 3 inch.’ They wanted a one-stop-shop from us,” DiMargio says. “That’s when we expanded.”

Originally, Quality Bar opened 15 years ago with one 3⁄4-inch to 3-inch line. After the company saw the demand for sizes larger than 3 inches, it purchased the larger line, which opened the door for processing different materials.

With different materials came expanded applications and more business. In its earliest days, the company’s carbon steel capacities allowed it to make bars for the average service center. Today, while DiMargio says the lion’s share of the material at Quality Bar still is shipped to service centers, the larger line and additional metals allow the company to get involved in higher-end applications.

“We still do carbon but now also quench and temper bars, stainless steel, large-diameter tubing and copper, but they’ll go more into a higher-end use where erosion is important, the strength of the bar is more important, the tolerance and straightness of the bar is more important, which would lend towards automobiles, fan shafting in motors, hydraulic applications for scissor lifts, man lifts and wind turbines.”

Although the company currently is not active in the wind turbine industry, it is planning to be involved in the near future. Quality Bar also expects to have an ISO certification by 2012, which will open the doors to more business with the automotive industry.

As it grows, the company has taken steps to make it easier for its customers to plan, schedule and order material. With companies and service centers entering the digital arena, putting its entire inventory online was an important customer service step for Quality Bar.

“The website makes it easier than ever to put an order in,” DiMargio says. When finished bars are processed, they are listed automatically in Quality Bar’s finished bar inventory. When finished bars are sold, they are deleted automatically from Quality Bar’s inventory. Customers have access to the inventory via the web 24/7, which allows them to check availability at any time and make orders at any time.

Industrial Tube & Steel Corp., Kent, Ohio, still calls in its orders but has been a Quality Bar customer since its inception and appreciates its relationship with the company. “They’re always looking for another way to make their customers happy,” says Dick Siess, president. “They’re very service-oriented, very customer-oriented, and so are we. So that helps. You get the feeling you’re dealing with a smaller, more personal entity.”

Economic effects
During the last ten years, the recession definitely has made an impact on the bar-processing industry, according to DiMargio.

Although Quality Bar is offering more types of material, it still only stocks about 2 million pounds. Being more conservative about which products to stock has become increasingly important, says DiMargio, because of the increase in demand, the shift in lead times and possible drop in surcharges.

The focus on variety is a result of the recession. “Demand has gone up,” says DiMargio. “The dollar has weakened a little bit, so there aren’t a lot of foreign imports coming in so the domestic mills are very busy. So their lead times keep pushing out. That’s really changed. The other thing that really changed was there were no surcharges back in 2001. So you have to be almost like a broker, you have to be very careful in what you stock and how much you stock. It’s very costly now.”

Today, Quality Bar stocks more than 50 products that range from 3⁄4 inch to 8 inches in diameter. Mill lead times for small bar are typically eight weeks, according to DiMargio. For large bar, it’s up to a year. “That’s the best delivery,” he says. “We still stock and try to stay ahead of customer needs, which is critical in today’s times. Back in 2001, it was four to six weeks tops for anything.”

Having fast, accurate lead times is crucial for any processor and distributor, according to Siess. Without that, he says, companies run the risk of losing much-needed customers. “Our customers rely on us to get their material on time, so we rely on them [Quality Bar],” he says. “If we don’t get it on time, they don’t get it on time. It’s a domino effect, but they’ve been very good with being on time.”

Quality Bar attributes its rapid order response to high quality in regards to straightness, ovality and finish. “Without our high quality, we would have never been able to earn the trust of our customers over the years. It’s that simple,” DiMargio notes.

The past and present has proven that over time change is inevitable for everyone. Although the future is unknown, the company plans to keep the same business practices and customer service. Industrial Tube & Steel plans to continue doing business with Quality Bar through the company’s expansions and metals additions, especially stainless steel. Siess says Industrial Tube & Steel, which has never done stainless steel bar, would be interested in getting involved with the product if he can do business with Quality Bar.

“It’s possible we’ll be doing stainless. Now that they’re doing it, I’d be interested in doing it if I could work with them. A lot of times it’s just about having the right source. With a source like them, doing business is always a breeze,” Siess says. “Who knows, they might be able to help us grow one day in the stainless bar market, as well.” MM

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